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Square Enix roles the dice with Bravely Default
Feb 28, 2014
By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada
Nintendo provided 3DS owners with plenty of lighthearted fare in 2013, letting gamers decorate in Animal Crossing, nap the days away in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, and enjoy some minigame goodness in Mario Party: Island Tour. It's now 2014, and Square Enix is ready to challenge gamers the world over with Bravely Default, a 3Ds exclusive that serves up a healthy dose of JRPG goodness.
Anyone who has played a Final Fantasy game in the past - and we're guessing that's a lot of you - will be instantly familiar with the world of Bravely Default, even if the game technically is a brand new IP.
Players will control a party of four characters - Agnes, Tiz, Edea, and Ringabel - as they embark on a substantial journey through the land of Luxendarc, taking part in turn-based battles as they aim to reach four magical crystals and rid the evil that's growing in power.
Of course, not much of this plot is terribly different from your average JRPG, but besides some nifty social features that would not have been possible in games made decades ago, Bravely Default introduces a simple but very significant gameplay mechanic that completely changes how players can - and must - go about fighting enemies.
Taken from the game's title, the Brave and Default system allows players to change up their tactics on the fly, going from offensive to defensive and back again depending on the situation.
Instead of each character making one move at a time in battle, be it attacking, using an item, parrying, or whatever, there's the option of making additional moves - up to three at a time - by choosing Brave. The downside is that each Brave takes away a subsequent move in the next round of attacks. Default, meanwhile, puts you in a defensive position. In this scenario, you can't do anything, but you won't take as much damage, and you'll get to bank a move for your next turn.
For instance, if you use Brave twice in a turn, that means you'll get to make three moves (your regular move plus two Braves), but for your next two turns, you'll be completely vulnerable. If you Default twice in a row, though, you'll be able to make three moves (your regular move plus the two banked Defaults) on your next turn.
It may sound slightly confusing to read, but it works wonderfully in Bravely Default, and adds an entirely different dimension to a video game genre that some have argued has become stagnant.
Developer Silicon Studio has also taken advantage of the social features the 3DS offers, more so than probably any other game on the system thus far. Connecting with other Bravely Default users via StreetPass will let you borrow moves in battle, as well as populate a town in a minigame where residents work to rebuild shops; the more you rebuild, the more items you'll be able to buy as you progress through the game.
For those who don't do a lot of StreetPassing, Bravely Default also lets you connect to users around the world via SpotPass.
StreetPass and SpotPass are is actually key parts of the game, as you'll need to enlist the aid of friends and strangers alike during tough battles, using individual moves players have sent. Of course, you can just as easily send out your own moves to help others as well.
While the Brave and Default system and the social aspects are both significant - and welcome - changes to the JRPG formula, the game still relies on many other things, both good and bad, that are synonymous with the genre.
An overdramatic script, over-the-top characters, and lengthy cut scenes are all front-and-centre in Bravely Default. Grinding - the act of spending hours taking on weak enemies in order to pad your stats for tougher sections of the game - is also a big part of Bravely Default.
Even this has been made as painless as possible, though. For one, players can crank up the encounter rate for enemies, meaning you won't be spending a lot of time walking around in circles waiting to enter a battle. Beyond that, once you're in a battle, you can fast-forward through everything very quickly, and even turn on an "auto" function, which automatically chooses each character's most recent move.
If you're going to grind, this is the way to do it. As someone who has never particularly minded grinding in most games, I can honestly say I happily spent numerous hours levelling up my characters, and the time flew by for the most part.
Besides your overall experience level, there's even more reason to keep levelling up in Bravely Default, and that's because of the Job system. In a nod to the Mega Man series, you'll gain the ability of every major boss you defeat. There are dozens of jobs available, from a ninja, to a pirate, to a salve maker, and many more, with the majority of them offering unique abilities, many of which you unlock as you level up. This means you could spend several more hours just mixing and matching different combinations.
So, Silicon Studio has clearly nailed the idea of offering a proverbial carrot on a stick to gamers, but that isn't worth a damn if the game world itself is a chore to exist within.
The game certainly looks superb, with gorgeous hand-drawn backgrounds as well as awesome 3D effects constantly assaulting the player's eyes. The music is almost as good, and the soundtrack practically begs the player to plug in a set of quality headphones.
The voice acting is also superb, although you better be ready for a lot of talking, and a lot of reading. The game admittedly goes a little overboard in this sense, and as such, it's a godsend that you can fast forward and/or skip right through cut scenes.
This affects the game's pacing, as do certain sequences that just deflate the overall feel. Did we really need to sit through a Miss America-esque talent show, or a cat-and-mouse chase with a mysterious man that spans several days? Granted, the latter of those two scenarios is part of an optional side quest, but even so, it's proof that there are aspects of the game that can get grating.
The latter part of the campaign is proof of this as well, as Bravely Default makes an ... interesting design decision that reeks of an attempt to pad the overall length of the game. This is particularly confounding, because before this late-game plot device is put into effect, Bravely Default offers plenty of content for the price, especially for a handheld title.
Still, more often than not, the game is thrilling as opposed to plodding. It's sure to satisfy long-time JRPG fans who may have been longing for something that goes back to the basics, so to speak, while still offering a fresh take on the genre.
I'm also convinced that while Bravely Default is far from a casual experience, it's still the most user-friendly entry in decades for the gamer that has little experience with JRPGs, but still wants to jump into the genre.
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